Skip to content
Who's in the Video
David Schnarch, Ph.D. is co-director of the Marriage & Family Health Center. He is a licensed clinical psychologist, world-renown sex and marital therapist, and international best-selling author. He is a[…]

Why older couples often have the best sex of their lives.

Question: What is love?

David Schnarch: Love is probably one of the most complex emotions human beings have. It means lots of different things to different people. It means lots of different things to different people and for a whole lot of people it’s simply a feeling that they have. What they’re used to thinking about is romantic love where you can’t think straight, you are completely preoccupied with this other person and unfortunately a lot of people are expecting that is what is going to happen once they get married and marriage requires an entirely different kind of experience. So perhaps the people who are dating this Valentine’s Day they have one view of it, but loving somebody is a very active process. Love is not just a feeling you have. It’s supposed to recruit to the benefit of the loved one, so you have to be strong enough to love and we’ve done a lot of research on our website and it turns that there are a whole lot of people that find it pretty hard to keep love going alive in an ongoing relationship.

Question: What are the various stages of love?

David Schnarch: I think what the difference is, is the very beginning of love, so that romantic infatuation is what a lot of people think of as love. That’s what they’re trying to rekindle, but that’s done by the most primitive part of your brain. It’s actually done by the reptilian brain and it is definitely time limited. Mother Nature has this worked out that you couldn’t possibly stay in that state because you can’t sleep, you can’t eat and nobody has time to take out the garbage, so there is a different kind of romantic love. It’s the kind that we actually help couples get, which is a much more personal love. When people first get together, that’s basically love between strangers, you not only don’t know this other person, you hardly know yourself, but when people are together for years, marriage teaches you more about yourself than you usually wanted to know and in the process you also get to know your partner very often better than they want to be known. That’s when real mature love comes into play, so it’s quite different being in an emotionally committed relationship. A lot of people think that marriage or an ongoing relationship kills the very thing that they got married for, which is love, companionship and sex and so what we help people do is really rekindle love through the process of marriage itself. Marriage is a lot tougher than people anticipate. Marriage is a people growing machine and so if you go through that process what we find is couples often have difficulty with sex and intimacy in the process of getting a relationship going and unfortunately a whole lot of people bail out, but we encourage people to have a very different view of what relationships are and if you go through gridlock and the difficulties that couples have the process itself often makes you mature enough to have the best sex of your life, particularly as you get older. That’s when people really learn about love.

Question: What is “differentiation” and how does it help partners grow closer?

David Schnarch: Up to now the guidelines for marriage or keeping a relationship going is communicate, communicate, communicate and we end up telling people you can’t stop communicating. It took the human race over a million years to learn to communicate and it’s not going to stop because you and your partner aren’t getting along, but differentiation is really simply saying that the processes of growth, what makes human beings grow up and truly become adult are built into emotionally committed relationships. That’s what differentiation is. Differentiation is the process of becoming a whole human being where you can stand on your own two feet even when you’re with your partner and standing on your own two feet even when you’re horizontal, meaning you can hold onto yourself. Most people don’t really understand that marriages are people growing machines. Mother nature has this worked out pretty good over the last million years and all you have to do is fall in love and become a couple and that will teach you the process of learning to hold onto yourself and validate yourself, learn to regulate your own anxiety, not getting overreactive and tolerating pain for growth. So we have broken this very complex scientific process called differentiation down to these four basic points and these are absolutely necessary if you’re going to keep love alive, if you’re going to keep sex interesting and if you’re going to have children. 

Recorded on January 29, 2010